Attending a conference – top tips for maximum impact

Alison McNab has valuable advice on getting the most out of your conference experience.

We all know that professional development budgets are tight.  If you’ve managed to obtain funding to attend a conference or event, well done!  Now it’s up to you to ensure you obtain maximum value from attending the event – for you and for your colleagues and organisation.

Before the event – preparation is key

Before you get there, take some time to review the programme. You may have a print copy of the conference programme, but you should also look at the programme online as there may have been last-minute changes and additions.

If your conference has multiple tracks, you may need to make some difficult choices about which sessions to attend.  Take some time to discuss the programme with colleagues or your manager to help you reach decisions. Remember you can move across tracks – you don’t need to commit to one choice.

My advice would be to decide and note every session you want to attend but be prepared to change your mind and be flexible when you’re at the event itself.

Agree with colleagues how you will share any lessons learned with them.

Take some business cards if you have them - they are useful for both exchanging contact details with other delegates and entering competitions run by sponsors.  If you don’t have any, consider ordering some from the many online companies that offer them (or make your own).  Don’t forget to include your social media account details and do check for spelling mistakes before pressing send on your order!

During the conference

Use of social media: If you haven’t got round to using Twitter before, this may be the ideal opportunity!  In addition to delegates who attend in person, many others may be following the conference hashtag

Here are some suggestions on how to use Twitter when attending a conference

Taking notes: Think about how you would like to record your thoughts.  Will you use paper or a digital device or app (or a combination of these)?  Maybe you already use GoogleDocs, Evernote or an alternative? If you choose to blog during or after the conference, share your thoughts using the conference hashtag

Take a break: If your head is spinning with lots of ideas or new resources to explore, consider sitting out one talk in order to process what you have heard.  Although you may feel they are all too interesting to miss!

Talking with speakers and established LIS professionals: The advice in “How to talk to famous professors” is aimed at early career researchers but it provides good suggestions for anyone new to LIS conferences

Other things you might need

  • Remember to check whether your lunch and refreshments are included in your fee and let the organisers know if you have special dietary requirements.
  • Bring a bottle of water   
  • If you have a power pack for your laptop / tablet / phone, do bring it.  Venues may have a limited number of power points in the conference rooms.
  • Tissues and cough sweets might be helpful in case  
  • Comfortable shoes for all the walking and standing involved at conference!  Though if you opt for style over comfort, do show them off with a #shoetweet

After the conference

  • Do reflect on what you heard, what you learned, who you met, and what you plan to implement or change when you get back to work. 
  • Provide feedback to colleagues – if not formally then over a coffee 
  • Monitor theconferenceTwitter feed for a couple of weeks as there will be continued activity afterwards (although not at the same volume as during the conference). 

Most of all – enjoy your time at the conference.  Remember how friendly and approachable the people working in our sector are and be prepared to engage in conversations and to meet new people!

Alison McNab is an Academic Librarian (Research Support) at University of Huddersfield, UK and a member of the Internet Librarian International Conference Advisory Board.